What Does the Sterlite Tragedy Mean for Democracy?
The public agitation demanding the closure of the Sterlite plant of the Vedanta Group in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu turned violent on 22 June, when over 10 protesters were killed in police firing.
The people were up in arms against Sterlite because of the increasing pollution levels and health hazards caused due to the copper smelting unit of the plant. The incident sent shockwaves across the country. Not long ago, the agitators who were demanding a hike in their wages had faced similar brutal police action at a Maruti plant in Haryana.
For all those who are keen observers of national as well as international developments, the attitude of the state is hardly surprising. Such is the power of neo-capitalism (finance capitalism) that many national governments across the world toe the line and make policies that are part of global corporate agenda.
Governments in Greece, Italy and some other European countries had to adopt austerity measures and cut down on social spending just because the forces of finance capitalism ordained them to do so.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement saw protests in the USA, with working classes taking to the streets to ask the state to bail them out of their financial woes and restore social expenditure. The people felt that the state should champion their cause rather than play into the hands of giant global multinationals.
Large swathes of the African continent have been economically colonised by global finance, with politicians colluding with big purses for their own personal gains.
The global financial crisis in 2008 was engendered by the collapse of a big multinational entity, Lehman brothers; and what did the state do? The state bailed the entity out by pumping in public money. This is simply outrageous.
These are dangerous portends for democracies.
In the golden days of socialism, it was fashionable for the state to advocate the cause of the downtrodden, the working class and the farmers; but things have changed dramatically now. Democratically-elected governments are not averse to being perceived as pro capital; and as an excuse, they put forth the development card.
Corporate power has grown exponentially in democracies and its impact on policy making is visible.
Corporate interest dominates public interest. Neo capitalism has virtually imprisoned democracy. The fault also lies in the political class as both corporate and politicians develop a nexus.
Political parties need funds to run their offices and run for elections.
Neo-capitalism accumulates through dispossession. It robs people of their forests, lands, water, air and minerals with the complicity of the state. People are uprooted from their cultures and feel dis-empowered and insecure.
Neo-capitalism has led to increased inequality levels; the growth is not reflected in the actual improvement in the quality of life of ordinary people. The stock markets may sky rocket but this is not the real growth.
The state has virtually withdrawn from several spheres. Education and health sectors are in a pitiable condition and it won’t be long before a major chunk of those sectors are given to private players.
The right to clean environment is an intrinsic part of right to life and hence by extension, it is a fundamental right. The judiciary has repeatedly widened the scope of Right to life and other fundamental rights by its various verdicts. Environment pollution is a top global challenge today and various governments have come together on a platform to tackle this menace.
It is high time that adequate steps are taken to insulate public-policy making from the influence of big corporate houses and check the entry of ultra-rich people into legislatures.
If this is not done immediately, the faith of the commoners in democracy will be shaken.
Jai Prakash Ojha, My Report
(Jai Prakash Ojha works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. An avid writer and blogger, he has been published on platforms like Youth ki Awaz, OpIndia, Huffington Post and Swarajya. After post graduating in PMIR from Patna University, the author completed PG Diploma degree in Journalism and Mass communication.)